Chapter 32

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Orin was reluctant to leave Ria when Hissy returned an hour later. There hadn't been any visible change, and while that was better than the negative alternative, this level of stagnation was troubling. It was odd seeing Ria so still. Since her unwanted arrival, Orin had either seen or heard her or both, the only moments of respite coming when she slept. Now, she was out of rhythm, and the absence of activity put him on edge.

He discovered, through a series of jarring trial and errors, that as long as he didn't touch the vines wrapped around her arms directly he could move Ria short distances but couldn't remove her from the room. It was unclear if dragging her around by her feet was the politest gesture, but it got her away from the window and any spying fae attempting to cause trouble.

Sensing Hissy's return through the call of the torc, Orin took a risk he wasn't sure he had the hand to gamble and headed to the barrier, unsurprised to find a tag along trailing Brenden's heels. Ryok was less than pleased by the unsolicited venture, though he kept his temper locked behind his sharp teeth when Orin approached.

"He's really mad," Hissy whispered through gritted teeth as she slipped past the barrier and dropped Orin's torc at his feet. "Might need to crimp his tail. He tried to take a bite out of mine when I trotted into the den."

As predicted, Ryok's mood was as icy as the snow gathering around his shins. Lean and tall, the man bore the scars of his rank with pride, hair shorn short on either side of his head to reveal the blue tattoos twining across his skin. The leader of the Barrier Wolves for well over a century, Ryok was a formidable presence likened only by Orin and Bracken himself-though the two were bitter rivals and got along about as fondly as oil and water.

"Master Orin," he greeted in a low baritone, bending frigidly at the waist. "The shrub said you needed a word with my charge."

"I am not a shrub, you two-legged night-crier!" Hissy shouted from beside Orin's foot, earning a hard nudge to keep quiet.

"Alpha," Orin coolly inclined his head, taking a moment to look Brenden over before continuing. Though it had only been a day, the Shifter appeared washed and groomed-his hair braided back off his face and all facial hair removed-a far cry from his disheveled appearance at the ceremony.

Trespassers awaiting judgment weren't afforded the same basic comforts as the rest of the pack. With Orin's rule of clemency in place, Brenden was awarded the right to be treated as a fellow pack member until the day of his release. Bound by fae law, Ryok was to give him a place to sleep among his peers, adequate grooming, and a position in the food order. Brenden might have to deal with scraps or procuring his own meals, but it was better than starving or execution by mauling.

It also didn't escape Orin's notice how, despite being a rigidly strict enforcer, Ryok had given Brenden more in twenty-four hours than Orin himself had given Ria in twelve days. The shame this pumped into his system burned like acid in his veins.

When conversation lapsed into stagnation-Brenden's uncertainty with proper greetings apparent-Ryok circled around beside the Shifter with a nasty growl, so close his nose brushed Brenden's cheek. "Bow to your betters, and greet the Master of Tree Spring, Trespasser. He alone is the reason you still live and breathe."

"Enough, Alpha," Orin snapped, bringing the wolf to heel before a physical lesson could be dolled out. "He is unfamiliar with our ways, and I do not take offense. I will speak with him alone."

"That means you can leave now," Hissy grinned from the safety of the barrier, all tooth and quills, and spiny dislike. Orin nudged her again with his foot, hissing a reprimand, but it did little to dampen her mirth at seeing the wolf glower.

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